JEDDAH: Japanese singer Mika Kobayashi played Saudi Arabia for the first time with two concerts in Jeddah on Friday and Saturday.
The singer mesmerized the audience with a power-packed performance of famous tracks from “Attack on Titan,” “Gundam UC,” and “Aldnoah Zero” at City Walk’s Anime Village.
Kobayashi told Arab News that Saudi Arabia had provided her with a totally different experience from other venues at which she has played.
She said: “The audiences were truly captivating and engaging from the beginning. It was amazing to see that my songs transcended language and so many people knew me and listened.”
Despite the hot conditions, Kobayashi felt the vibes were cool as the audience’s reaction kept her comfortable throughout.
She is now keen to learn more about her fans in Saudi Arabia and looks forward to future opportunities in the Kingdom.
She added: “I didn’t have much of an impression before of Saudi Arabia, but visiting this country was truly memorable and changed my perspective.
“The people are so friendly and welcoming. That’s one of the reasons I want to come back and perform again.”
Vocalist Kobayashi has worked with Hiroyuki Sawano since 2010. She first collaborated on the album “Massugu na Otoko,” providing vocals for the song “Illusion.”
She features on “Final Fantasy,” “Blue Exorcist,” and various other solo projects. Her signature singing style owes much to classical music, but her talent is distinguished by the power she displays while performing songs of battle and conflict.
Hamza Mohammed, 25, who attended one of her shows, said: “The audience was provided with a real treat. We chanted the famous lines of the songs with Mika Kobayashi.
“The love for anime in the Kingdom has increased, and such concerts just bring so much to fans like us who can listen to our favorite songs and engage with the singers.”
Muzn Alhind, 29, said: “The Anime Village is the best zone in City Walk. I have attended three concerts so far and enjoyed all of them. Mika’s concert was one of the best as a debut performance. She sang fiercely and strongly while engaging with the audience.”
‘The Cello’ star Muhanad Al-Hamdi: ‘It feels like anything is possible’
The Saudi actor is on the verge of a global breakthrough with his role opposite Jeremy Irons in ‘The Cello’
Updated 21 September 2023
DUBAI: Ambition can be a frustrating thing. For Saudi actor Muhanad Al-Hamdi, it was almost unbearable. He could clearly see, in his mind’s eye, an image of himself opposite Hollywood royalty, starring in the sorts of films the region has never made. At times, he was embarrassed to share his dreams with others. After all, how could a young boy from the Kingdom, a place where cinemas had, at the time, been banned for years, ever will himself into that world?
Thankfully, the rules that once held back Saudi Arabia’s boundless creativity are gone for good. Just five years after the Kingdom announced its intentions to create an international-standard film industry, history is being made on an almost weekly basis, and Al-Hamdi, a one-time beloved MBC personality, finds himself a major part of those leaps ahead. This week alone will see the release of two of his groundbreaking projects years in the making: “The Cello,” the first international Arabic-language horror film, and “Hard Broken,” a crime-thriller series getting a global Netflix release.
“I’m so proud to be Saudi, now more than ever before,” Al-Hamdi tells Arab News. “Saudi Arabia feels like a rocket ship at the moment, everything is moving so fast. And the real beauty of these changes is that they’re lifting every industry up, so we can thrive in any direction we choose. It truly feels like anything is possible.”
Every artist has their own journey to success — and their own definition of what that means. While Al-Hamdi has loved acting for years, he admits that the craft itself was not his main motivation. In fact, it was stardom that Al-Hamdi yearned for — the kind of fame and glory that only marquee talents achieve. Then, one day at the beginning of August 2020, while on vacation in Beirut, Lebanon, Al-Hamdi was changed forever.
“It’s still hard to talk about, but I was very nearby when the (Beirut Port) explosion happened. I almost died. I came so close to death that I could smell it. For the first time in my life, I was keenly aware of my own mortality,” Al-Hamdi says.
“After the explosion, I quite literally changed into a different person. In an instant, I didn’t want the fame anymore. All those numbers that used to consume me now felt meaningless. What I needed, I realized, was to do good art for my legacy. I need to make something to be proud of — something that I’ll show my kids someday,” he continues.
Even in a changing Gulf region, however, creating art is easier said than done. Up until that point, Al-Hamdi had found success by chasing opportunity wherever it lay, eager to climb the ladder even when the rungs seemed non-existent at times.
He wanted to study acting, for example, but no acting schools existed in Saudi Arabia. Undaunted, he went to study in Kuwait, the Gulf country with the richest theatrical culture, and, after graduation, met an Emirati man who told him that true success was to be found in Dubai, and he would help him.
“He told me he had a meeting with MBC in two days, and that I had to book my ticket and join him. I told him ‘Of course.’ But at the time I didn’t even have money for a ticket. My friends lent me the cash, and I booked the flight and arrived. I didn’t even have a sim card or a place to stay,” Al-Hamdi recounts.
“I took a cab to Dubai Mall, and sat on the mall’s Wi-Fi for four or five hours just waiting for him to message. I started thinking that maybe he wasn’t serious, and I’d come for nothing. Then finally he responded, telling me he was in the Armani Café, and the next day we went to MBC,” he continues.
From that moment, his path to fame fell into place quickly. MBC agreed to try him out on their radio stations as a presenter, and after two months behind the microphone, a passing TV executive caught sight of his striking good looks, found out he was Saudi, and immediately ushered him into his office.
“He said, ‘What the heck are you doing on the radio?’ Within minutes I was sitting in a chair with the radio and TV managers both standing above me, asking me what I wanted to do. I said I’d cook in the kitchen or clean the floors if they asked me to, but I couldn’t decide this myself. A short time later, they came back and told me I had to be on TV,” says Al-Hamdi.
In 2019, just as MBC was about to make him one of the lead presenters on the morning show, Al-Hamdi landed one of the main roles on “Cairo Class,” a major MBC series, and audiences welcomed the turn. Within two weeks, he went from 30,000 followers to 1 million, and left presenting behind.
But after the Beirut bombing changed everything for Al-Hamdi, the path forward felt a little less sure. He was being offered role after role, and began turning them down one by one, a dangerous move for an emerging star. He dreamed of something international, a dream that was realized with “The Cello,” written by Turki AlSheikh, chairman of Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority, and co-starring Oscar-winning actor Jeremy Irons and horror legend Tobin Bell (best known for his portrayal of Jigsaw in the “Saw” franchise).
“I was genuinely shaking before my first scene with Jeremy. I never thought this moment would come,” says Al-Hamdi. “I told him I was his biggest fan and it’s true, but he told me that we are equals. On set, we are all actors working together to create something special. He told me not to think about proving to him or anyone else that I’m good. ‘You’ll be good if you believe in the character. Never perform for anyone else but yourself. And never forget that we’re doing something for love, first and foremost.’ I’ll never forget a word of what he told me.”
Perhaps that was the moment Al-Hamdi decided what he needed to do once he left that set. He’s realized that he can no longer wait for the kind of stories that he wants to tell to come along so he can star in movies that he can tell his children about some day. If he wants to reach that point, he has to take fate into his own hands.
“I have so many ideas, and I’m fully committed to bringing them to life. ‘Hard Broken’ is the first step on that journey, a series based on a story by my wife, herself a director. I’m now writing four different stories — one about a real Syrian man who died near me on that same day that I was spared in Beirut. I have so many stories to tell,” he says. “I’ve become hungry — starving — for real art.”
“I think Saleh Bakri is one of the best actors in the Arab world,” Nabulsi said. “I think he’s the Daniel Day-Lewis of the Arab world. He has an intensity; he has an emotional intelligence that is fantastic. Whereas Mohamed Abdel Rahman, who’s our Adam, who’s a wonderful newcomer that I will say I’ve discovered, I feel like I have … it’s just that raw talent that you rarely come across.”
Shot with difficulty in the occupied Palestinian West Bank, the film is based on a true story that offers a tragic yet hopeful insight on the struggles that Palestinians face.
“The story of ‘The Teacher’ is the sort of amalgamation of all these different real-life events that I’ve come across during my travels and trips to Palestine, where I have been talking with numerous Palestinians about so many real-life events that they have experienced firsthand, that take place and inspired the screenplay,” Nabulsi said.
“There’s always this thing, this reluctance, this idea that if a film is to do with Palestine that maybe, maybe it won’t sit well so well with Western audiences, for example. And on the contrary, the audience seemed to have loved the film,” she added. “I’ve had a lot of reactions and feedback. Some of the critics have written some wonderful stuff.”
Director Amr Salama joins International Emmy Awards jury
Updated 20 September 2023
DUBAI: Egyptian director Amr Salama has been announced as a jury member for the 75th International Emmy Awards.
The award-winning filmmaker, who is also a screenwriter, announced the news on Instagram.
“I am excited to announce that I participated as a Juror for this year’s International Emmy Awards Competition. It’s an honor to contribute to selecting the best in television programming from around the world,” he wrote to his 425,000 followers.
His celebrity friends including actresses Tara Emad, Rana Raeis, Mariam El-Khost and stylist Mai Galal quickly took to Instagram to congratulate the filmmaker.
Salama is known for his 2017 film “Sheikh Jackson,” which was selected as Egypt’s official submission to the 2018 Academy Awards for Best International Feature Film and his 2011 documentary “Tahrir 2011: The Good, the Bad and the Politician,” which won the UNESCO award at the Venice Film Festival.
Among his notable work Is Netflix’s series “Paranormal,” which was an adaption of Ahmed Khaled Tawfik’s novel “Ma Wara’ Al Tabee’a.”
NEW YORK: The Saudi National Orchestra and Choir performed on Sunday at the world-renowned Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.
The “Marvels of Saudi Orchestra” concert, a collaborative effort between the Saudi Theater and Performing Arts Commission, the Saudi Music Commission, the Metropolitan Opera, and the Kingdom’s Ministry of Culture, was the Saudi National Orchestra’s debut event in the US.
“Art has the possibility of triumphing over adversity,” Metropolitan Opera General Manager Peter Gelb said in his opening speech at the event.
The concert showcased Saudi Arabia’s rich cultural and musical heritage, opening with a series of folk songs under maestro Riab Ahmed. The musical numbers were masterfully performed by a large orchestra of musicians playing modern and traditional Arab instruments, including the oud and flute.
Performers wore traditional Saudi garb, while female singers in the choir donned purple dresses and headscarves. Each song demonstrated a different type of traditional Saudi music while various performing arts on display included Samri, Majrour, Rubsh, Al-Khatwa, and Liwa.
The first session of the concert ended with an Arabized version of the classic American song “Fly Me to the Moon,” made popular by Frank Sinatra.
After the opening session, Saudi opera singer Reemaz Oqbi — one of the only Saudis to ever study opera — took to the stage with a rendition of “Habanera” from the world-famous opera Carmen, followed by the American vintage piece “Kiss Me Again.”
The concert’s third session brought the atmosphere back to the West with the Dizzy Gillespie All-Stars. The jazz group first performed pieces inspired by their namesake, the great American trumpeter and bandleader John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie.
After an East-meets-West, jazz-Arabic fusion instrumental song played by Saudi musicians and the Dizzy Gillespie All-Stars, the latter group’s saxophonist Tim Ries praised the collaboration between the two.
“We need no words, only the heart that beat together. We’ve become like family after only two days,” Ries said.
The concert ended with a medley of popular Saudi songs played by the Saudi National Orchestra and Dizzy Gillespie All-Stars together, ending in a rousing rendition of “The Renewer” by Abbas Ibrahim.
The Saudi National Orchestra and Choir is the seventh initiative in a series of projects launched by the Ministry of Culture, aligning with the cultural heritage oriented goals of Saudi Vision 2030. Though this is their first time performing in the US, the musicians have performed in Riyadh, Jeddah, Paris, Mexico, and Jordan.
Behind scenes with Bahraini fusion band contemporizing Khaleeji music
Updated 17 September 2023
RIYADH: Crowds attending a recent concert in Riyadh’s JAX District were taken on journey of sound from Africa to Arabia by Bahrain-based fusion band Majaz.
The Warehouse venue boomed to the chanting of the vocalists and the audience as the first show of Majaz’s regional tour got underway alongside the Saudi band Garwasha.
With popular tracks including “Shuruppak,” “Rihla,” and “Mashujaa wa Jangwa,” Majaz recently released its latest single, “Heila Hei,” which, according to the group’s publicity, addressed “modern society’s obsession with achieving happiness and fulfilment, amidst the bombarding and overwhelming pressure of the age of information, with playful banter.”
It noted that the words of the song title were “nonsensical” and “used colloquially by older Bahraini generations as a way to boost morale or motivation.”
Hameed Al-Saeed, the band’s guitarist, told Arab News: “The whole idea of infusing Khaleeji music with different types of music, or modernizing it in different ways, is still relatively new, especially in the region. There’s a lot of room for experimentation.”
Saudi musician Abdulla Faisal, the band’s percussionist, said: “Us as Khaleejis, we’re not enjoying our music to the maximum that we should.”
When I grew up and tried to learn more about world, jazz, and fusion music, I realized that Khaleeji music is rich, if not richer, than all the genres.
Abdulla Faisal, Saudi percussionist, Majaz
The four-piece band is made up of Al-Saeed, Faisal, Salah Alawi on bass, Jehad Al-Halal on cello, with collaboration on vocals. Over 10 years of playing together, the band has aimed to inject energy and participation into its live performances.
As well as Jeddah, the current tour will visit other cities in countries including the UAE, Egypt, and Morocco.
The band integrates progressive rock, metal, jazz fusion, and Khaleeji folk music.
“The older we get as a band, the more connected we get to our roots and the music from this region, the Khaleej, as much as we can. To me, that’s the most important thing,” Faisal added.
Al-Saeed said: “Gradually, we became more focused and narrowed down our creative input into something more valuable culturally, and to us as musicians and individuals and a band, in relation to who we are and where we come from.”
This amounted to their own take on Afro-Khaleeji, incorporating sounds from African cultures and their own heritage, including traditional Bahraini fjiri, jirba, and laiwa vocal repertoires.
“We are very grateful for our experience in Morocco a few years back because we got exposed to how gnawa music, Moroccan traditional music, got contemporized or modernized.
“For us, that was fascinating. This is exactly what we need to do with our music,” Faisal said.
The group’s music is a celebration of the connections between Africa and Arabia, whether it be through the melodies of Khaleeji tribal sounds, or the rhythmic beats of Afro music. The two cultures interweave historically, inspiring the band members to create a fusion of both worlds encapsulated in the genre.
The band said it had been inspired by northern Mali group Tinariwen, who it played alongside at a festival.
“We’re trying not to limit ourselves creatively by taking sounds from a very specific country or culture, whether it’s in Africa or Khaleej. There are a lot of beats, rhythms, or even melodies that are shared across the entire continent of Africa, and similarly in Khaleej,” Al-Saeed added.
Majaz shows around the world have included Dubai’s Wasla Arab Alternative Music Festival, the Dhaka International FolkFest in Bangladesh, and more recently Les Journees Musicales de Carthage in Tunisia, and MDLBeast’s SoundStorm Festival.
With a population of more than 7 million, Riyadh was the prime location to both play and kick start the band’s tour.
Faisal said: “Worldwide, Riyadh is a very important place musically, let alone in the MENA region. We can’t have a conversation about music without talking about what’s happening in Riyadh.”
Majaz hopes to reach Saudi Arabia’s younger generations with its traditional regional music.
“I think a lot of millennials developed this distant relationship with Khaleeji music. When I grew up and tried to learn more about world, jazz, and fusion music, I realized that Khaleeji music is rich, if not richer, than all the genres,” Faisal added.
The band is currently working on new sounds, material, releases, and shows.